on 29 July 2007
Until now, I haven't felt that there was a recommendable "Parsifal" available on DVD. Nagano's version from the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden is visually inane and musically uninspiring, while Levine's Metropolitan Opera version is safely traditional but unexpectedly dull.
Here is a version recorded live at the Bayreuth Festival in 1981. I've been very pleased to find that this is, with some caveats, an outstanding version of the opera.
In Act 1, the character of Gurnemanz is of critical importance since it is his role to explain the background of Kundry, Amfortas, Titurel, Klingsor and the spear to the audience. Fortunately Hans Sotin as Gurnemanz and conductor Horst Stein bring every facet of the story to life. I've heard Stein's conducting in this performance described as pedestrian. Not so. The orchestral response is thrilling in the Transformation Music, and the singing of the Grail Knights in the following section is magnificent.
As for Siegfried Jerusalem, this performance finds him, aged 41, fairly near the beginning of his operatic career (he was a bassoonist until the age of 35). Nevertheless, it seems he was already an excellent Parsifal, and this recording allows him to shine more than the Levine DVD from 1992. Matti Salminen is towering (and unmistakable) as Titurel, and Bernd Weikl conveys all of Amfortas's pain and anguish.
I didn't think that Act 2 was quite as successful, largely on account of Eva Randova's Kundry. I found her voice unduly shrill. For me that detracted from the latter half of the act where Kundry's role is so important. On the positive side, Stein is impressive in the chromatic music representing Klingsor's kingdom, and he brings a sense of eroticism to the Flower Maidens' music that harks back to "Tristan".
Things are back on track in Act 3. A particular highlight is the Good Friday music, which is given a performance of enormous power and beauty. I've never heard it sound so moving, despite owning the 1951 Knappertsbusch recording of "Parsifal" and the orchestral-only performances by Jochum and Furtwängler. The end of the opera is radiant. One almost is almost disappointed by the lack of applause on the DVD.
Wolfgang Wagner's staging seem quite traditional to me: a leafy forest glade for Act 1, a vaulting chamber for the castle. The 1981 video transfer is clear. As so often, the video direction is by Brian Large. The sound is generally excellent, although the volume does not always seem consistent between acts.
In summary, despite the problem I have with Act 2, I feel that this is a great recording of "Parsifal". I'd recommend it without hesitation.
on 2 August 2007
Finally the quest for the holy grail is over: A performance/production of Parsifal on Dvd that is really worth investing in and really helps you appreciate that in fact Parsifal IS a great opera.
My knowledge of Parsifal is limited to the Nagano Dvd and the Levine/New York Met production (similar to the first reviewer here). I have seen a couple of live performances and have a few recordings on dvd (Von Karajan, Knappertsbusch (1962), Levine). I can say that, regarding dvds, whereas the Nagano production suffers from: a) conducting that seems to me to lack feeling and, b) from being another silly modern stage, and while the Levine production is: a) sluggish with unimaginative tempi and, b) lacking in dramatic effect, this Bayreuth version is conducted with pace by Stein but is nevertheless replete with ethereal atmospheric effect induced by a really effective layering of the score, the staging is perfect - not cluttered, but scenic and in fact beautiful - and individual performances in terms of singing and acting are really first rate.
Ultimately this recording illustrates how fundamental it is to adhere to Wagner's stage instructions to maximize not only dramatic effect but, I believe, also to bring out the sheer beauty of the music. Stein, backed by an excellent orchestra, conducts well for sure but the fact that there is real synthesis between music and drama - the gesamtkunstwerk of which Wagner extolled - really does serve to facilitate both: the music seems more apt and imbued with significance, the drama simultaneously drives and is driven by the music. The music and the drama make sense when harmonized in this manner - a far cry from many, if not most modern stagings, such as a recent live production I saw that was set in an institution for the mentally ill; in what way is the prideful, sombre marching music of the knights befitting of a congregation of nutters in a loony bin!?!?! Ridiculous!
I have to say I hate modern productions and they are potentially killing off new generations of would-be Wagner enthusiasts. The difference in effect on a Wagner neophyte seeing this Bayreuth production as compared to seeing one of the dodgy modern translations would be palpable - it is essentially the difference between rendering the opera quasi transcendental and rendering it an absurdity. That modern stagers think they can outdo the work of a genius who made it his life-time obsession to perfect every last detail of his mature opera works is in itself absurd!
Now for some details:
As I have mentioned the staging is excellent and the dramaturgy pretty much faultless throughout.
Siegfried Jerusalem is absolutely excellent as Parsifal here. He is about 12 years younger than in the Levine/Met Opera Dvd version which I think makes all the difference since we must assume that 'der reine tor' is not a man well into his fifties. Furthermore, he seems to be vocally at his peak here; his voice is powerful and perfectly nuanced and controlled. His acting is appropriate for Parsifal who must come over as being naive but not an imbecile (by contrast I have seen Jerusalem play Siegfried, a character not dissimilar to Parsifal in many ways, as an imbecile in Dvd versions of Siegfried and Gotterdammerung).
Sotin as Gurnemanz and Weikl as Amfortas are also perfect both in terms of singing and acting. Sotin is much subtler than, for example, Kurt Moll in the Met production whose 'acting' appears to revolve around glancing at the conductor every five seconds for guidance. As Amfortas Weikl looks and plays the part and his interaction with the Knights in the two grail scenes has a real visceral edge to it lacking in other productions.
Randova as Kundry, for the most part, is also excellent. I would agree with the first reviewer here that her voice is perhaps insufficiently sweet to be convincingly seductive in Act 2. This is something of a fault and lacks the power of Waltraud Meier's performance in the Levine Dvd. You can understand Parsifal's struggle to remain 'pure' when confronted with the lyrical and visual treat of Meier but not quite so much with Randova although she is not exactly weak in this respect. The flower-maiden scene is done so well that this somewhat compensates for the relative lack of 'seduction effect'. Randova is very good, however, as the wretched alter-ego of Kundry, her screams of anguish seem pertinent rather than melodramatic.
Some small gripes. In the final scene Kundry is supposed to fall 'lifeless to the ground' - this does not happen here and I think it is a fault albeit not a debilitating one. The beam of light, used in other productions, that should fall on the grail when in the office of Parisfal is also lacking which I think somewhat detracts from dramatic effect and the significance of the work.
I can live with these omissions as I can with Randova's less than particularly seductive voice in the 2nd act because everything else is spot on.
So, in a nutshell, if you want a traditional Wagner rendition of Parsifal that synthesizes music and drama as facilitated by truly excellent acting and singing engendering perfectly the atmospheric effect I believe Wagner would have wanted, then you MUST buy this. It is Wagner's gesamtkunstwerk at about as high a degree as you are likely to see - probably on dvd or any performance live now that the evil Wagner hating modernist stagers have saturated the opera world.
on 18 September 2010
This production provides just about everything I want from a Wagner opera. The setting is traditional, in that there is a recognizable forest and cathedral, and the costumes are in keeping with the idea of a religious order of knights etc. Scene changing is done via cross-fades, removing the need for obtrusive stage-hands interrupting the opera. While "stage business" may be a necessary evil to a live audience I see no problem with discreet editing for video release. One slight caveat here, though; the spear catching was also done by editing, and is a little abrupt, but in it's favour it produces a mild shock at just the right moment, and the symbolism is clear.
The real pleasure in this release, though, is that I can imagine no better cast of singers all at once in the same opera! Hans Sotin as Gurnemanz sings in a dignified manner befitting a High Priest, as does Bernd Weikl as Amfortas. Leif Roar is suitably menacing as Klingsor, and, as with all the principals, he looks and acts credibly. But the entire opera belongs to the interplay between Siegfried Jerusalem and Eva Randova; The Act 2 Temptation/Curse scene is absolutely exemplary. Both characters look the part - he a young hero, she a sultry temptress - and do not require us to "forgive" the less fortunate physiques of many a great Wagnerian singer, while for a full half-hour we are treated to singing which is clear, expressive and true to pitch, with none of this sliding up to notes so common among Wagner singers. This practise strikes me as an aural equivalent of hoisting up one's underwear, and is mercifully absent here. Randova particularly shines in the incredibly difficult chromaticisms of the attempted seduction. Pure Wagnerian bliss!
The 5.1 orchestral sound is rich and clear - a common problem with video releases which normally only a studio recording can alleviate, but this release is as good as any video I have ever heard, while the balance between voices and orchestra remains rock steady.
I am not always convinced that a blood relationship to a composer conveys real authority on an interpretation, and Wolfgang Wagner's Meistersinger is an example which I feel doesn't work, but here I have no hesitation in thinking that Richard would wholeheartedly approve of this.
A fully earned five stars.
on 15 December 2010
I recently purchased the DVD of this production of Parsifal which was recorded at Bayreuth in the early 1980s. The production is directed by Wolfgang Wagner and the conductor is the Swiss maestro and Bayreuth regular Horst Stein (both are sadly no longer with us).
This production has a special place in my heart as it was the first Wagner work that I actually experienced live in the Festspielhaus. That was in 1982 and this recording was made the year before. I recall that it was broadcast by the BBC at Easter one year sometime later on in the decade.
Anyway enough personal reminiscence. The production is a fairly conventional one by the standards that opera goers experience nowadays. The costumes seem right and the scenery is suggestive rather than representational. The lighting is good. All in all the work is presented to us in a way that will not distract us from the singing and playing.
The orchestral playing is sublime and we have Wagner's incandescent score given a sensitive and exquisite performance by Horst Stein and the Festival Orchestra. The choral singing is all one would expect from Bayreuth at this time. In terms of the soloists Hans Sotin and Bernd Weikl take the honours with Siegfried Jerusalem also deserving much credit. Eva Randova is not the best Kundry I have seen or heard and her upper register is a little strident. However, I recall the passion and fire in my heart as I walked out of the Festspielhaus after the second act into the evening air back in the summer of August 1982 and I forgive her failings in a way that others who had not experienced the intensity of the live performance cannot be expected to.
I can whole heartedly recommend this DVD recording of Parsifal. It gives a true account of a moving performance of one of the world's greatest works of art - and all for £8.99 at Amazon as at the time of me writing this review!
on 21 April 2008
My favourite performance of this work, not only on video but also musically. Jerusalem is in his prime (if only his later Siegfrieds and Tristans preserved the voice in this state), and Weikl is simply the greatest Amfortas -- an underrated baritone in his finest role, rising fully to the 3rd Act demands which Fischer-Dieskau and Van Dam so glaringly fail to meet. In all other respects it's more than acceptable, and the production, which I saw live, captures the unique atmosphere of the work and the venue.
on 25 March 2013
This is my third of four attempts at finding a production of Parsifal that fullfills all my expectations.
Teatro La Fenice is stark and depressing, though the music is fine, similarly with Nagano Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, the set designer has had a touch of the sun, or a rush of blood.
On to the current reviewed item the sets are what I expect or even better, totally appropriate to the storyline, and with some very nice touches like the destruction of Klingsors palace.
The costumes fit my conception of what they should be. The flower maidens are particularly beautiful. The Sinopoli version from Bayreuther Festpiele is an equal contender for best version.
The voices, Hans Sotin with his sonorous tones is very impressive. Matti Salminen is as always good in character, and rich in voice. Bernd Weikl has a most pleasant vibrato, and a rounded sound that is most listenable.s
Siegfried Jerusalem is equal best Parsifal of the four versions that I now own. He is a true professionel in all aspects, an excellent performance.
I perhaps should have been a gentleman and put ladies first, but Eva Randova in her portrayal of Kundry is also equal best in singing and performing of the four versions of which I am familiar. She has a very clear voice and plenty of power for the emotional bits.
Picture quality is acceptable, sound very good and the orchestral interpretation much to my liking.
The booklet has timings, a comprehensive synopsis, item by item, and notes on Wolfgang Wagners original production.
Of course there may be better productions on the other DVDs that are available but I shall not pursue them in fear of disappointment.
on 25 March 2014
This is a fine version of the opera. I particularly liked the effort made to make both scenes and costumes contemporary to the time of the opera was set. Special praise must go to Eva Randova who gave a rivetting performance as Kundry, the best I've seen. Although Siegfried Jerusalem portrayed the role of Parsifal well, I would have preferred the voice of Jess Thomas or Jonas Kaufmann. This is the shortest version of the opera I've encountered but this did not detract at all and may not be a bad thing in such a record breaking long opera.
on 5 April 2011
This, Wolfgang Wagner's first production of his grandfather's final masterpiece, was a traditionalist reaction to his elder brother's famous 30 year old iconoclastic staging. The sets are very attractive, but the direction misses many opportunities for emotional depth and psychological insight. The singers are generally very good, but all have done better elsewhere.
Siegfried Jerusalem was a far better proponent of the title role a few years later. Here, though fresh of voice, he lacks the nuance that distinguished his more mature work. And he had not learned to act. Through most of the opera his elbows appear to be nailed to his sides. Eva Randova isn't bad as Kundry. Since mezzo-sopranos have taken over a role Wagner intended for sopranos, we have to expect a certain amount of strain at the top. And not many star level performers want to take on a demanding role whose third act puts them on stage for over an hour with only four notes to sing. Bernd Weikl's Amfortas is firmly sung, but also not yet the characterisation into which it would soon ripen. Gurnemanz comes off best here, with Hans Sotin's voluminous and burnished basso resounding throughout. He is hampered by Horst Stein often criticized leadership.
Pedestrian conducting? No, merely prosaic, and precipitous. This is the fastest performance of Parsifal I've found in comparison with 27 others. (The total time is twenty minutes faster than Hermann Levi's 1882 premiere, and that is one of the five fastest I know of.) The result is a perfunctory-ness that refuses to allow the music to unfold as it should, in spite of some sterling efforts on the part of the orchestra's musicians.
If you must have a traditional Parsifal video, this is one of two equally inadequate choices. The MET's production is better sung, less attractive and equally apathetic, but Levine's lethargic and ennervated tempi are infuriating.
on 30 October 2009
I had been looking for a recommendable DVD of Wagner's Parsifal for several years and I finally chose this recording on the basis of my impressions after reading several reviews elsewhere. This DVD presents Wagner's grandson Wolfgang's first production of Parsifal at the Festspielhaus, Bayreuth recorded between 24 June and 15 July 1981. Although not a traditional Easter performance, this production fulfils two of my preferred criteria, namely that the performance should be at Bayreuth as Wagner intended and that it should ideally be produced by one of his descendants.
The picture format is NTSC Colour 4:3 which gave a sufficiently large, clear image on my 32 inch widescreen TV at a distance of about four and a half metres. The English subtitles were easily readable and German, French, Spanish and Chinese are also available. The menu is in English. I listened to the DTS 5.1 (surround) sound option and PCM stereo is also available.
The singing, orchestral playing and Horst Stein's conducting are as fine as reported in other reviews. In addition, I found the singers' acting, the video direction by Brian Large and also the generally rather bare staging all convincing. Despite some minor interruptions from family members, I enjoyed the whole performance which lasts just under 4 hours with only a short break after 100 minutes to change from Act 1 on the first DVD to Acts 2 and 3 on the second DVD. I understood, and hence enjoyed, the opera more from this single viewing than from several audio-only recordings that I had listened to over many years.
Therefore, I have no hesitation in giving this DVD recording of Wagner's last, and perhaps greatest work, an enthusiastic recommendation.
Alan Freestone, 30 October 2009
on 15 September 2012
This Wolfgang Wagner approach well suits the music and the drama. Parsifal, Gurnemanz and Amfortas, in the hands of Jerusalem, Sotin and Weikl are, at worst, well done and often sublime; that does not apply, however, to Randova as Kundry. Her voice is generally coarse and far too often is delivered at an upleasant and penetrating level, particularly in her middle and upper registers. That works well, of course, in her screams of mental anguish, but it is as tiresome as a bad joke endlessly repeated. Her poor portrayal of a supposedly seductive character completely ruins Act 2. If you are prepared to listen only to Acts 1 and 3, it is worth buying for the performances of Jerusalem and Sotin.
The staging, whilst not very ambitious, serves to support the action without being distracting. A pity, though, about the swan. Although I have no personal experience, I cannot believe that a swan that has just been killed would be as stiff as a board; someone should still be feeling embarrassed.